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Bidou Jean, bidouilleur

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Bidou Jean, bidouilleur is the debut novel by Quebec writer Alain Denis (born 1959), published in 2003. Originally written in French, it has not yet been translated into English. Its title could be loosely rendered as "Tink John, Tinkerer".

The novel is the story of a young boy, Bidou Jean, who lives in a rural area of Quebec that is a bid of a cultural wasteland. He grows up very much alone, as he is shunned by most of the boys his own age because his father, Bidon Jean ("Tank John", as in an empty oil drum) has been institutionalized for having psychotic episodes. Bidou Jean seeks refuge in the world of his own imagination, tinkering with language (which is the meaning of the "bidouilleur" of the title) after he steals a dictionary from his school to feeds his fascination with obscure or bizarre words. He creates a world in which his father is a hero and not a social outcast. His father has two main qualities, a gift for words and telling stories - he is a writer, a profession that Bidou's friends find laughable - and a talent for playing baseball; he was once a gifted amateur pitcher who was actively scouted by the Brooklyn Dodgers (the action takes place in the early 1970s).

The usual theme in American literature that deals with baseball is that it is a game which unites the country and facilitates integration into mainstream society, which it largely represents. For Bidou Jean, however, baseball is one more degree of separation from his peers, who, as all good Quebec boys, are obsessed with hockey; his particular affection just makes him more different. So, he plays imaginary games in his mind, with the clouds serving as his imagined diamond since the small town's actual baseball field is covered in snow, over which an outdoor hockey rink has been built. On his baseball field, a warm and sunny paradise, he is a hero.

The novel was well received by critics upon its first publication and has been reprinted in a paperback edition. It has also been taught in school programs. It is noted for its inventiveness with language in the line of another noted Quebec novelist, Réjean Ducharme, a quality that makes translation a huge challenge which no one has yet taken on.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Alain Denis: Bidou Jean, bidouilleur, Michel Brûlé, éditeur, Montreal, QC, 2008 (originally published in 2003). ISBN 9782894854044
  • Michel Nareau: Double jeu: Baseball et littératures américaines, Le Quartanier, Montréal, QC, 2012, pp. 125-129, 171-179 and 330-337. ISBN 978-2-923400-91-4
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